Skip to main content

Full text of "Men Of Mathematics"

See other formats


HEX OP MATHEMATICS
came to the tip of his tongue as readily as the more civilized
languages of Continental Europe and Ireland. This polyglot
fluencv played no inconsiderable part in the early and ex-
tremely extensive miseducation of the hapless but eager
William, for at the age of three, having already given signs of
genius, he was relieved of his doting mother's affection and
packed off by his somewhat stupid father to glut himself with
languages under the expert tutelage of the supervoluble Uncle
James.
Hamilton's parents had very little to do with his upbringing;
his mother died when, he was twelve, his father two years later.
To James Hamilton belongs whatever credit there may be for
having wasted young William's abilities in the acquisition of
utterly useless languages and turning him out, at the age of
thirteen, as one of the most shocking examples of a linguistic
monstrosity in history. That Hamilton did not become an
insufferable prig under his misguided parson-uncle's instruction
testifies to the essential soundness of his Irish common sense.
The education he suffered might well have made a per-
manent ass of even a humorous boy, and Hamilton had no
humour.
The tale of Hamilton's infantile accomplishments reads like
a bad romance, but it is true: at three he was a superior reader
of English and was considerably advanced in arithmetic; at
four he was a good geographer; at five he read and translated
Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and loved to recite yards of Dry den,
Collins, Milton, and Homer - the last in Greek; at eight he
added a mastery of Italian and French to his collection and
extemporized fluently in Latin, expressing his unaffected
delight at the beauty of the Irish scene in Lathi hexameters
when plain English prose offered too plebeian a vent for his
nobly exalted sentiments; and finally, before he was ten he had
laid a firm foundation for his extraordinary scholarship in
oriental languages by beginning Arabic and Sanskrit.
The tally of Hamilton's languages is not ye* complete. When
WBliam was three months under ten years old his uncle reports
that 'His thirst for the Oriental languages is unabated. He is
now master of most, indeed of all except the minor and com-
374